Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fear and Love: lessons from Deer, Engineering, and the Devil You Don't Know

This is a "one thing leads to another" posting. Meander with me.

This past Tuesday morning, shortly before leaving for my drive north where there are a lot more signs about deer crossing the road than on the city streets where I live, I read a poem about hitting a deer while driving: Penitence by John Burnside from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, edited by Neil Astley, (Hyperion, New York, 2003). I quote just a bit from the middle of the poem:
I left the engine running; stepped outside;
away, at the edge of the light, a body
shifted amongst the leaves
and I wanted to go, to help, to make it well,
but every step I took
pushed it away.
Or – no; that's not the truth
or all the truth:
now I admit my own fear held me back,
not fear of the dark, or that presence
bending the trees;
not even fear, exactly, but the dread
of touching, of colliding with that pain.
I stood there, in the river of the wind,
for minutes; then I walked back to the car
and drove away.
Once I got to CPE, my colleague whose spiritual practice is from the Native American traditions led a devotion using animal medicine cards, and we each picked one. Mine was Deer. She then read the story of each animal's totem and characteristics. I share part of Deer's story:
One day Fawn heard Great Spirit calling to her from the top of Sacred Mountain. Fawn immediately started up the trail. She didn't know that a horrible demon guarded the way to Great Spirit's lodge. The demon was trying to keep all the beings of creation from connecting with Great Spirit. …

Fawn's eyes were filled with love and compassion for this oversized bully of a demon. The demon was astounded by Fawn's lack of fear. No matter how he tried, he could not frighten Fawn, because her love had penetrated his hardened, ugly heart.

Much to the demon's dismay, his rock-hard heart began to melt, and his body shrank to the size of a walnut. Fawn's persistent love and gentleness had caused the meltdown of the demon. Due to this gentleness and caring that Fawn embodied, the pathway is now clear for all of Great Spirit's children to reach Sacred Mountain without having to feel the demons of fear blocking their way.

Deer teaches us to use the power of gentleness to touch the hearts and minds of wounded beings who are trying to keep us from Sacred Mountain. Like the dappling of Fawn's coat, both the light and the dark may be loved to create gentleness and safety for those who are seeking peace. …

You may not be willing to love yourself enough to feel your fears and let them go. You may be projecting your fears on others. It may also be others whom you fear, reminding you of a time when you reacted to life in much the same manner. At any rate, love is the key.
from Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals by Jamie Sams and David Carson (Author), illustrated by Angela C. Werneke, St. Martin's Press, Revised Edition (1999), p. 52-54
In our CPE group this week, we talked about our fears of next steps. Mine are of finishing seminary and getting or not getting a call to a church, and what that would mean. Well, I can take a hint. The message from Deer was about how to deal with my fear with love. The scripture verse, "love casts out fear," came to mind and I looked it up.

1 John 4.18-20 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

And of course I looked for music to go with it.
Your love, O God, has called us here,
for all love finds its source in you,
the perfect love that casts out fear,
the love that Christ makes ever new.
~ Russell Schulz-Widmar (1944-);
© Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Or an older version with several different tunes:
O love that casts out fear,
O love that casts out sin,
Tarry no more without,
But come and dwell within!
~ Horatius Bonar, 1861.
So perfect love casts out fear. But I don't have perfect love, so what will imperfect love do? I mull on this.

As a part of my directed study, I gathered a group of GLBT clergy and seminarians this week to talk about what confronts them in their calls and career journeys. One arrived early and described her current compassion fatigue: she just can't do one more visit to the sick, one more meeting with someone made jobless by this economy. She's going on retreat to refill her own well. Fortunately, she's wise enough to know that she needs to do that and in a church where she gets support in both time and money for her development and renewal. Over lunch she described some of her times of fear in coming out while in a pastoral role. Fear remains a theme for the week, but another definition is uncertainty.
One problem with clergy work is that there is no clear standard for what it means to be a "good pastor." One way to deal with the uncertainty is to work harder and harder until you are working sixty to seventy hours a week and then you burn out because there is still so much more you could do. (United Methodist clergy woman). Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling by Barbara Zikmund, Adair Lummis and Patricia Chang, p. 74
My wise colleague also had this to say about our current troubled times: that now is probably a great time to be a non-traditional pastor candidate because denominational organizations and gatekeepers are so distracted by the turmoil that the non-traditional candidate can slip through into a place where they will be welcomed.

Engineering stories confirm this: Because women are not male the way clergy have historically been, then when they are being evaluated against traditional, successful clergy characteristics they already have a strike against them.
This, combined with the structure of clergy work and the ambiguity that surrounds performance assessment, makes women more vulnerable to subjective evaluations of their performance.

What can be done to change this situation?

A clue can be found in a recent study comparing pairs of male and female engineers whose careers were followed through six organizations. In this research, women were able to advance most quickly in firms in turbulent markets and in firms where work tasks were structured in flexible networks. In flexible network settings, when work was done by personnel organized in egalitarian teams and when communication and decision making tended to be horizontal rather that vertical, men and women tended to be evaluated on the basis of qualifications and skills rather than gender. The chief characteristic of these work settings was that different ways of thinking, different values, and different opinions were considered resources for working out solutions to existing problems. …

The research found that, in contrast, women do less well than men in bureaucratic organizations that seek to ensure a "continual reproduction of the culture." In such bureaucratic organizations, women become professionally invisible… Clergy Women, p. 76
Engineering also had insights on the congregation's side.
A church in its Prime can begin to suffer from the presumption that it doesn't need to work at renewal, vision, assessment, and evaluation, believing that things will always be as good a s they are now. But a congregation that falls for that illusions would do well to remember what any first year engineering student knows about the Second Law of Thermodynamics—Energy spontaneously tends to flow only from being concentrated in one place to becoming diffused and spread out. Or, to put it another way, "things tend to break down." The critical leadership function for this stage is to fight the forces that lead to atrophy and resistance to change. … The constant challenge for the pastor will be to develop and communicate the vision that will tip the church's direction from homeostasis to evolution, from complacency to resilience. The Hidden Life of Congregations by Israel Galindo, p. 70-71
Okay, lessons from engineering duly noted. Finally, in searching the internet for scripture, love casts out fear, I found the following articles. Read them and let me know what you think.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear by Angela Rose, an amazing article about someone confronting fears.

And the sidebar led me to this article with this great lead quote about fear.
Embracing the Devil You Don't Know by Candace Chellew
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure ... We ask ourselves: "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be ...? Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you... As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
--Marianne Williamson
And one link led to another article by the same author:
Clergy Cowardice By Candace Chellew-Hodge

As it happens this week I have just been reading the clergy survey that she references. Check it out for yourself. Clergy Voices: New Findings from the 2008 Mainline Protestant Clergy Voices Survey. I am not sure that I read these findings in quite the same way, but I take her point.

My prayer for this week is to act in love to cast out fear, to begin to understand how to do that, teach that, be that, or just claim that perfect love that casts out fear, and that each of you may do the same.


  1. Hi Nancy, I am introducing you to the RevGals blog on Monday. Welcome!

  2. Welcome to RevGals, Nancy, and what a wonderful post. I needed to hear a lot of this, and parts of this post may be popping up on my blog in the coming weeks. Thank you so much for this post.

  3. Wow, such riches here! I will be coming back to review this post and others. welcome to RG!